10  Feb
Old stuff

In 2007 in preparation for building a new house we were slowly taking apart the home that had served my maternal family well for over 150 years, and which had been standing in Oak Point for 200 years. We gave an Amish farm family almost anything they could carry off including wooden dressers, beds and the plywood sheathing they stripped off an addition we built in the 1970s, and either gave away or sold the appliances and some of the more modern furniture. My sister wanted the thick, wide wood planks in one of the original bedrooms so I started removing them. In the process of doing so I exposed the huge beams (probably chestnut) that set on the stone foundation, as sound as the day they were laid and clearly showing the adze marks. I wondered how the mortise-and-tenon beams were secured so tried to move one of the tenons and was amazed that it lifted right out–the tenon set right into the mortise. For 200 years those beams had been held in place by nothing more than gravity!

I have an affinity for “old stuff”, and this includes old but still useful farm equipment. I’ve seen some dandy forage seedings made with grain drills that are way over 50 years old, with fertilizer hoppers and augers still working just fine. That’s because their owners carefully cleaned the seed and fertilizer out of the hoppers and then greased or oiled all moving parts. I’ve also seen grain drills and corn planters that are barely 10 years old but already on their way out because the farmer simply parked it after he was done planting, leaving fertilizer in the hoppers. (“I’ll clean it when I get time.”, but that time obviously never came.) Something to think about this coming spring as you finish planting.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: February 10, 2018, 3:33 pm | No Comments »

03  Jan
The joke’s on us

Global warming? Two mornings ago it was 25 degrees below zero at Oak Point, and that’s Fahrenheit. Friday and Saturday nights could be close to that, and the high for those days probably won’t reach zero. At one time climatologists were saying that one of the major impacts of global warming in the northern hemisphere would be milder winters. But the melting of the Arctic glaciers is having somewhat of a different impact. Of course we’re barely two weeks into meteorological winter but I’m already looking forward to spring. I didn’t used to dislike cold weather as much as I do now, perhaps because when we lived back in Peasleeville the cold often came accompanied by snow so there was something productive to do outdoors. And as long as I kept moving even temps near zero were quite tolerable. Sometimes I even went out on a cold, calm night (no wind is the key) just to get some aerobic exercise, moving snowbanks a big further off our driveway. I’m sure some neighbors must have thought I was nuts, and perhaps they were right. Here in Virginia there’s little snow, just moderately cold weather at worst, but there’s nothing to do outside, no snow drifts to shovel.

So far one impact of global warming, if indeed there’s one detectable, is the more frequent weather extremes. In 2016 it was so dry in Northern NY that trees were dying. In 2017 we had record rainfall including what was supposedly a 500-year one-day rain event of almost 8″. What’s next–locusts. (Forget I mentioned that.)

We know there’s some measurable impact of climate change because the growing season in the Northeastern U.S. is reliably longer than it was a generation ago. Farmers who once planted Group 00 soybeans are now planting Group 1 beans, often 1.5, and it’s not because they’re better at growing soybeans–it’s all about the growing season. And in many ways the joke’s on us.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: January 3, 2018, 9:51 pm | No Comments »

11  Dec
What’s in a name

I either have two first names or two last names; folks just can’t seem to decide which. This morning a librarian conducted a fruitless search for a book I had on reserve until she finally realized that she was searching under “Everett” instead of “Thomas”. This has long been a cause for confusion, and once resulted in my getting a lower final grade than I deserved. I had art class in high school once a week and my art teacher (we’ll call her “Mrs. Smith” to protect the guilty) insisted on called me “Thomas Everett” in spite of my politely correcting her each and every time. After about two months of this I gave up and every time she called me Thomas Everett I would answer, “Yes, Smith Mrs.”. She didn’t much like that, would firmly state “My name is Mrs. Smith!” and I would say “And my name is Everett Thomas.” You can guess who won that battle. and I got a final grade of C in spite of almost never getting a grade lower than a B in any work I turned in. But I didn’t care because 1. It was art class, and 2. I was the kind of high school student who never had to worry about preparing a valedictory speech anyway.

Having a first name like Everett also caused problems in elementary school, especially in the early grades where everyone in the class was supposed to give everyone else a Valentine’s Day card. The other kids–mostly named Tom, Joe, Jane, Mary etc.–had real problems with spelling my name–this was before I used to go by “Ev”. The teacher used to distribute the cards and figured that any addressee whose name she could’t grok must have been intended for me.

The only problem with “Ev” is that some people pronounce it “Eve”, and I”m not about to let that fly. One old guy in my church called me “Everest” for 20 years in spite of being corrected many, many times. One year I got a Christmas card addressed to “Thomas Everett and Katy” (Katy is my wife’s name), and in it was a note saying “Will see you soon–Aunt Grace.” Katy read it and asked “Who’s Aunt Grace?” “I don’t know but we’ll apparently be seeing her soon.” It took awhile but we finally figured it out: Another fellow in town was named Thomas Everett and he had a daughter named Katy! To make things even weirder, both Tom Everett and I were involved in agriculture and were roughly the same age. But what’s in a name?

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: December 11, 2017, 4:50 pm | No Comments »

02  Nov
Grumpy

OK, I admit it, I’m not in a particularly good mood. My wife is away for a couple of days on a family “mission of mercy”, leaving me to fend for myself. At least she left plenty of leftovers. Also, it’s been raining ever since she left and I just got wet attempting to sneak a much-needed walk in between showers.

My mood wasn’t improved yesterday afternoon during a drive around farm country, a trip made partly on the “wrong” side of the road (fortunately they weren’t busy roads) with some rather abrupt switchbacks. The reason wasn’t lack of driving skill or substance abuse but because long stretches of the road were covered with mud (from late-season corn harvest) and cow manure (from–well–cows). It’s impossible for farmers to keep mud off of rural roads during harvest in a wet fall–that’s not my gripe. But when they’re done for the day would it really take a lot of effort to make a pass with a scraper blade to remove the worst of it? Mud is bad enough but manure from overfilled or leaky spreaders is a lot worse, especially when it coats the exhaust systems of passing cars. I’m used to farm smells but lots of folks aren’t, and I expect that parking a car in the garage after driving through a coat of fresh cow manure doesn’t enamor homeowners to their farming neighbors.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: November 2, 2017, 8:07 pm | No Comments »

I’ve been ordering more stuff from Amazon and other on-line marketers these days. We’re in what retailers might call a “shopping desert”, with limited shopping alternatives within a half-hour’s drive, and I’ve discovered that rather than settling for what’s available in local stores I can often find a much better selection on line. Last month after stopping at the four stores in “The Burg” that sell men’s athletic shoes I went online and found just what I wanted on EBay for about half what I’d have paid even if one of the local stores had what I wanted. Amazon recently bought the Whole Foods market chain, causing great angst among the other supermarket chains. Will Whole Foods start home delivery? How will “traditional supermarkets react?

Even if Amazon changes the food shopping experience it’s simply one more step in what’s been happening to “the retail experience”. The corner grocery store has all but disappeared from many towns, replaced by an A & P supermarket which in turn was replaced by a Super Walmart.

How about agricultural retailing? Certainly there have been changes but for the most part farm supplies–farm equipment, feed, seed, fertilizer–are still sourced locally or regionally. One of the big changes in the Northeast is that there used to be an Agway store in almost every farming town of any significance. For instance,during the 1970s there were about 400 dairy farms in Clinton County and six Agway stores. When the Agway stores disappeared, in most cases nothing replaced them and farmers had to drive somewhat further for supplies but this was long before “the Internet way of things”. Now farmers can order seed and pesticides on-line but few choose to do so. Personal service is still important in the farm community. A silage inoculant company I’ve worked with has a two-price structure: One price for the inoculant drop-shipped to the farm with no service included, a slightly higher price for the same product but backed up by a knowledgeable sales representative who’ll follow up with the farmer if there are problems. The rep told me that most of his clients are willing to pay a bit more for the technical support.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: October 6, 2017, 3:52 pm | No Comments »

I’m often asked via email what to do about a particular situation, usually something that has gone wrong or is about to. Unless I know the farmer (not just as an email correspondent, but actually having been on the fellow’s farm) I’m sometimes hesitant to make recommendations. Oh, I usually do but I try to cover my butt via an assortment of precautions and caveats about the influence of weather, etc. That’s because some farmers can take a difficult situation and make something good out of it, while others can start with almost ideal conditions and figure out a way to screw things up. But unless I know the farmer I don’t know on which side of the good farmer/bad farmer continuum he sits. Most are somewhere in the middle, fortunately.

Much of the success and failure in farming has to do with timing: It doesn’t cost any more to plant corn in May than in June, nor to harvest first cut alfalfa in late May vs. well into June, but the impact on farm economics are often huge. Sometimes a farmer is so late that he accidentally is on time–sort of like a stopped clock being right twice a day. A spring seeding delayed long enough becomes a late summer seeding. I well recall a farmer who never seemed to do anything on time planning on planting a triticale-field pea mixture. This mixture should be planted in early spring because peas like cool, moist conditions. Of course the farmer missed the ideal time, then it was time to plant corn (late, of course), and by then his first cut alfalfa was in full bloom, gotta do something about that, and before he knew it the calendar had rolled around to August and all those bags of triticale-field peas were still sitting in the shed.

The farmer decided to scrape the worst of the pigeon poop off his grain drill and finally plant. Fortunately he didn’t ask me before doing so because I’d have told him to hang wait until next spring. Fortunate for me, because after planting we got a stretch of unusually cool, wet weather and then more cool weather heading into fall with plenty of moisture. Both triticale and peas germinated and grew just fine, and by normal corn silage harvest time–much to the amazement of his neighbors (and me)–he had a great crop. A crop that he harvested at about the same time others were chopping corn since his June-planted corn crop was just a bit late in maturing. Funny how that sometimes works out… Now I could have tried explaining to the farmer that he was just lucky and shouldn’t make August planting of tritical-peas an annual event, but do you think he would have listened? Me neither.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: September 12, 2017, 12:58 pm | No Comments »

A few weeks ago while on my daily walk I came upon a huge mama snapping turtle in the middle of the road. She’s no stranger around here since each year in early summer she leaves her river home in search of a sandy place to lay her eggs. A motorist stopped and between the two of us we were able to move her well off the road. If she appreciated our efforts she certainly didn’t show it.

This reminded me of another turtle incident many years ago when I worked for Cornell University as a regional field crops specialist. Every once in a while I’d find a turtle in the road, usually a painted turtle, Chrysemys picta. I’d stop my car and move the turtle off the road, preferably into a nearby water body. This day I found a painted turtle in the middle of busy NY Rte. 37. I picked it up and looked for a good release site but couldn’t see anything nearby. So I put it on the floor of my car, knowing that in that area Rte. 37 adjoins the St. Lawrence River and there’d soon be a good place to release the little feller. Or gal.

I found just such a spot, pulled off the road, and…no turtle. But no turtle, no problem, it probably just crawled under the seat. I then did a thorough search of under the seat, and the floor of the back seat: No turtle. The floor of the car was carpeted, and the carpet provided enough purchase for the turtle to have crawled up into the dashboard! (Have I mentioned that the car was owned by Cornell University?) I had visions of a dead turtle rotting away somewhere up in the far reaches of the dashboard, and how I’d explain this to the manager at the Cornell fleet garage. I was already on informal probation there because of an unfortunate incident involving stopping at the garage with a car full of diseased corn stalks. My search therefore became somewhat desperate.

Have you ever laid on your back on the floor of the front seat with your butt pressed against the seat, peering up into the myriad of wires and mysterious components? Neither had I, and I don’t recommend it. I found the turtle, which had gone about as far as it could without peeking its head out of a defroster vent. In trying to fetch the turtle it seemed like it had at least eight legs, each one wrapped around a wire. Painted turtles are usually quite docile but the failed escape attempt had left it in a bad mood, to be matched by my own especially after it let loose with a torrent of turtle pee. But all’s well that ends well, and the turtle did get released into the river with a story to tell its offspring.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: August 7, 2017, 9:13 pm | No Comments »

01  Jul
Inundated

Oh, dear, I let the entire month of June slip away without writing a blog, unintentional but there was so little good to write about anyway. As my grandfather used to say about people he didn’t care for who had left (either temporarily or permanently): “I’ll miss him but it will be a $#&@ good miss.” I feel the same way about June, which didn’t slip away as much as it washed away, not only here at Oak Point but for much of NY State and New England as well. Some areas got their entire average June rainfall in a matter of hours, literally: One farmer in Western NY told me that they got 3.65″ of rain in 2 hours, resulting in severe soil erosion in corn fields where there wasn’t a good residue cover. The rain came early and often, far in excess of normal in April, May and June. Here at Oak Point we had over 15″ of precipitation for these three months, and the St. Lawrence River is setting records that have stood for over 100 years.

In the ten days I’ve driven to Ithaca and Syracuse and never saw any corn that was as much as a foot tall. Soybeans were similarly far behind in development. I read where a majority of corn in the region was planted after June 1st and can well believe it. Since then we’ve had about three inches of rain and several days where the temperatures struggled to reach 70F.

A good growing season–or even a normal one–separates the good crop managers from the bad. Given half a chance the good ones get stuff done on time while others are still thinking about it, trying to remember if they ordered those corn planter parts last year. But a spring (and now early summer) like this one affects all farmers, the good and the not-so-good. And as one who provides crop management advice to farmers, my phone and email inbox have been unusually idle during the past month or so. There are few decisions to be made when a farmer can’t get on even his best-drained cropland.

Hope I’m wrong but I see little chance that corn planted in mid-June will make decent silage by late September, especially since I suspect that many farmers didn’t switch to earlier-maturity hybrids. Late-planted corn usually “catches up” somewhat to that planted earlier and of course we’ll be hoping for a late frost. But so much of the corn I’ve been looking at is not only way behind in development but all the rain we got in the past week or so will drown some of it. Any preplant nitrogen fertilizer has almost certainly been leached past the root zone, and unless we get a good stretch of dry weather soon it will be tough to apply sidedress N to these waterlogged fields. Farmers who put up enough corn silage in 2016 to last into early 2018 should be really glad they did because this is looking like a really rotten year for corn.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: July 1, 2017, 2:01 pm | No Comments »

The title isn’t a typo or misspelling: With all the rain and cold weather farmers are pacing the floor waiting and hoping for some break in the weather, wearing out shoe leather in the process. And these conditions apparently prevail far west of here, right through much of the Midwest.Areas of Minnesota had snow last week, one area had a crust of frost on recently-planted corn. Out there what appeared to be an early spring quickly turned into a cold, wet one, while spring is very slow in coming here in the Northeast. Some corn has been planted on gravel ground but I’m not sure I’d be happy about that. This may be the year when some farmers learn what “chilling injury” to germinating corn is all about. That’s when the combination of excessive rain and cold conditions kills corn before it has a chance to emerge.

The current situation is a reminder that even though climate change has resulted in a measurably longer growing season, we haven’t become immune to cold, wet springs. However, it’s not as important when you start corn planting as when you finish, and you shouldn’t be in a hurry to “mud in” corn in the next week or so, especially if when conditions are right you can complete corn planting in about two weeks. I’d much rather see corn planting start on May 20-25 and end two weeks later than to plant into cold, wet soils a week or more before that and suffer poor germination. Starting in late May certainly isn’t ideal, but nothing about this year is so far. And I wouldn’t switch to sudan-sorghum hybrids until after mid-June. An 80-RM corn hybrid planted on June 15 will almost always outyield sudan-sorghum.

Another challenge is winter rye and triticale planted last fall that’s getting ready to harvest. Quality will probably be down because of all the cloudy weather, and it’s going to be tough to get the crop dry. My preference would be to chop the same day it’s mowed, even if it’s on the wet side, using wide windrows. Consider a slightly longer chop length in an effort to reduce effluent production. Butyric acid production isn’t nearly the problem when the crop is mowed and chopped the same day as it is when the drop sits overnight in the windrow.

Hang in there–mother said there’d be days like this.

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: May 2, 2017, 1:22 pm | No Comments »

10  Apr
Stuck

April–what some farmers call “mud season” in the North Country. During the 15 years I worked for Cornell Cooperative Extension I spent most of my time “out and around” making farm visits. This meant finding the farmer wherever he was at the time, often out in the field. Early on I decided that getting stuck in the mud would be a waste of time so I was very cautious as to where I drive the company car. The head of Cornell University’s fleet garage was a piece of work, and I sure didn’t want to bring a car back to the university with the undercarriage coated with mud. So I often would walk back to a field instead of driving down a muddy farm road.

I got stuck exactly twice in those 15 years, and in both cases with the farmer in the passenger seat telling me “Oh, you can drive down here, it’s OK.” Obviously, it was not. In one case the farmer told me to drive down what appeared to be a slightly muddy slope. I said “Are your sure?” He said “No problem.”. I started down the slope, and about halfway down he said “Maybe that’s far enough.” “I stopped back up there a ways–we’re sliding.” And we did, all the way to the bottom of the slope. He wasn’t upset, obviously had been stuck many times before, and hiked back to the farm, returning with a big John Deere tractor to haul me back up the hill.

I also got stuck twice in the 30 years I worked at Miner Institute, in both cases nobody’s fault but my own. The ribbing I took from the “Crops Crew” in hauling my car out of the mud was enough punishment that both times were early on in my career there.

One warm, sunny spring day a farmer on his way to town drove past a field and saw a tractor in a field near the road with a man lying under the tractor. He wasn’t moving, and the farmer feared the worst. He got out of his pickup and ran into the partly plowed field, yelling “Are you OK?” The man quickly sat up, forgetting that he was lying under the tractor, whacked his head on the undercarriage, flattening him again. He rolled out from under the tractor, rubbing his head with a sheepish smile. “Got sleepy and thought I’d take a nap in the shade.” You’d have to know the sleepy fellow to truly appreciate this story…

Posted by Ev, filed under Uncategorized. Date: April 10, 2017, 12:35 pm | No Comments »

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